The Re 1 fine imposed by the Supreme Court on 31 August for contempt of court drew my attention to the foundation of our Constitution. The preamble begins with justice, liberty, equality and fraternity from which presumably emerge socialist and secular. All very noble sentiments, but not at all rooted in the Indian ethos. To me the moral cornerstone of Indians is karma.
Those citizens who are immigrants into the country and have not yet adjusted to the soil may not be au fait with this fundament but all others, including people of non-Hindu religions, know it. Karma is the root of life and is known to even illiterate Indians. The Indian Constitution should therefore be ideally rooted in karma and not liberty, equality and fraternity, the troika of words thrown up by the French Revolution of 1789.
Together the words sound resonant but those who speak or hear them do not realize that they are contradictory. Liberty or freedom is spontaneous, and most people are born free, whereas equality is not natural and has to be imposed by society or government. Almost everyone is born unequal. Excellence has to be reduced and ordinariness has to be supported to bring about equality or near equality. Many a person has to be supported to bring about equality. The moment society loosens its grip, equality goes and liberty takes over.
The essence of karma is liberty and it is utterly rational and logical. In life, the consequence of karma is bhagya or fate; deed leads to destiny. This is rather like the principle of physics that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Equality is an Abrahamic innovation; the first Prophet and his successors believed that God made man equal but society makes him unequal. The result was that every good Christian believes in the desirability of social service whether by running schools, colleges or hospitals. Islam introduced zakaat, a kind of tax of two and a half per cent of every momin’s wealth at the end of every year.
The money so raised is used by the holy men for the welfare of poor Muslims. These are the ways Christians and Muslims try to make people as equal as possible. The sentiments are noble, but to what extent do they succeed in bringing about equality?
The faith in karma believes that a person is poor or suffering as an automatic atonement for his deeds, bad as may have been the case. Or he or she is well off and happy as a reward for desirable deeds done earlier. Charity cannot be an equalizer of the essentially unequal. Nor can karma be controlled down or up. No society has been able to achieve equality, including the former Soviet Union which was based on the ideology of Marxism, which proclaimed “from each according to his ability to each according to his need.” The intentions of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin remained on paper but the Soviet Union certainly went bankrupt in a matter of 70 years.
Karma, as the root of life, is at least as old as the Vedas if not even older. On the other hand, the inspiration to socialism may be vaguely traced to Plato’s Republic or Greek philosophy. The second written inspiration was Thomas More’s Utopia, a title which is self explanatory of socialism’s deficiency in realism. In any case, it has no connection with the Indian ethos. Incidentally, when the Constitution was first inaugurated in 1950, there was no mention of socialism. It was smuggled into the Preamble in 1976 (Emergency year) when most opposition leaders were in jail. However, Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956 introduced his economic policy as a socialistic pattern of society.
Secularism was similarly smuggled into the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976. It had no meaning for India, a dominant Hindu country with no religious role in government. Hinduism is not a religion in the sense of one way of worship, one God, one holy book, one prophet. Its core is karma and thereafter there are innumerable denominations. Strangely enough, secularism began as a revolt against the Roman Church seen by many a German as practicing imperialism. For example, three lakh pieces of gold used to be taken annually from the German speaking areas by Rome with no benefit to the Germans. Martin Luther led the protest which eventually resulted in the Reformation in the 16th century. France largely remained loyal to Rome and there were three houses to its parliament or national assembly, house of the landed aristocracy, house of commons and thirdly the house of bishops and abbots etc. The Church owned a great deal of land and had a substantial voice in governance. The king listened more to the Church and the others probably kept quiet for fear of God. When the French Revolution took place, the country still had the three houses. In the light of these facts one can see why secularism or the separation of the State from the Church took place. What was the relevance of these developments to India?
While Dr B R Ambedkar drafted the Constitution, it was Jawaharlal Nehru who directed it to the end. For the sake of communal peace, Articles 25 to 30 were introduced. The first, namely 25, gives freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. This gives complete freedom to change one’s religion.
Article 27 gives freedom regarding payment of taxes for the promotion of any particular religion so long as non-payers are not coerced. Article 28 allows freedom as to attendance at religions instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions. With all these provisions, there is no justification for Hindus to complain that any of these provisions lead to minority pampering.
The Christians regularly propagate the faith of Christ. They also teach this message in their schools. Muslims raise a tax called zakaat, two and a half per cent of a person’s annual wealth for distribution to the poor; who need not be of their faith.
The Hindus do not do any such thing except to keep announcing ghar wapsi. Additionally, they could raise more funds through the freedom to tax. With the money collected, they could build schools and teach children their chosen curriculum, also religion, if they have interest. In fact, it is useful for children to grow up knowing the fundaments of all faiths. There would then be little communal tension. Whether the Constitution should have been so liberal as to allow conversion, which would be the result of propagation, is a matter of opinion.
Article 41 provides the right to work, to education and to public assistance for the purpose. The national document was first released on 26 January 1950 and after all these years, teaching of poor children is not fully in gear. To achieve cent per cent school education there could be a public and private collaboration. The State can provide the land and a prosperous private party including an industry should construct the building after which public donations could be raised for other expenses like furniture, smart boards and other equipment.
Token fees should be charged because anything that comes free is taken for granted both by the parents and children. If no restriction is placed, say a period a day should be devoted to teaching moral values, including religious ones. More private parties would be attracted to participate in this grand collaboration for teaching India’s children.
The writer is an author, thinker and former Member of Parliament